October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided

The ice rink is smooth like glass. A young woman glides across the surface, breaking it in with her skates’ sharp blades. Across the rink, her coach watches closely, analyzing
each move. 

Barbara Foster has been working at the Tim Moylan Tranquility Iceplex as a coach since it first opened in November 1995. Throughout her extensive career, she has coached students as young as 2 and as old as 82.

Foster was born and raised in the small mining community of Noranda, in Canada’s Quebec province. She attributes her perfectionist tendencies to her no-nonsense upbringing. 

Named after Barbara Ann Scott—a Canadian Olympic gold medalist and world champion in figure skating—there was little doubt that she would become comfortable at the rink.

Her father put her on the ice for the first time when she was only 2 years old, during the intermission of a local hockey game. Her first pair of skates were actually hockey skates. 

Dad was a high school principal and also refereed games in his spare time. He laced up her tiny skates, and she was a natural on the ice from the very beginning. Foster’s parents knew then that she would live up to her namesake. 

As a young student of figure skating, she trained with coaches in the summer, but was left to practice on her own during the brutal Canadian winters. She trained at a recreational rink, where she would come in through the back door and practice before school every morning.

Photo provided. Foster coaching a senior student.

When she was 14, she began training with Hans Gerschwiler, a World Figure Skating Champion and silver medalist at the 1948 Winter Olympics. When Gerschwiler moved to the United States in 1960, he asked Foster’s parents for permission to take her with him to continue her training. 

“He was an incredible skater for a long time,” Foster says. 

Foster trained with Gerschwiler in New Jersey and eventually became a teacher for his young students. While there, she developed a passion for coaching.

“The best part about teaching is the relationships,” Foster says with a smile. “There is no better job, and I get a lot of satisfaction from feeling that I’ve impacted my students.”

Since her days in New Jersey, she has coached all around the Midwest, Australia, and New Zealand. A perfectionist by nature, she stood out from other coaches and pushed her students to achieve the goals they placed for themselves. She eventually settled down in Omaha with husband Larry Foster, who retired from his job as the director of Council Bluffs Parks in August.

As a 74-year-old retired coach, she still enjoys teaching students of all ages, but she says she does not miss the rigorous seven-day training schedule she once lived by. 

In the past five years, she has undergone numerous procedures, including two back surgeries, total knee replacement, and treatment for a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. But she refuses to let these procedures discourage her.

After knee surgery this past February, she was in Boston to support two of her students who went to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Nationals in April. After her first back surgery in 2013, she was lacing up her skates again after three weeks of recovery (instead of the three months that doctors had expected to be necessary). 

Photo provided. Foster and her coaching mentor.

While teaching has always been a passion of hers, there is one passion that surpasses all others: her family. As a grandmother of nine, she is often on the road to visit her grandchildren, who are scattered across the country from Jacksonville, Florida, to  Olathe, Kansas, to Takoma Park, Maryland. 

Each summer, the grandchildren make a trek to Nebraska for one of their favorite annual events: “Camp Nana.” Foster started Camp Nana when the oldest grandchildren were toddlers. The parents drop off the grandkids for two weeks of fun-filled activities and bonding time.

“I never had an opportunity to be connected to my cousins,” Foster says. “I just really wanted to make sure that I could provide that opportunity for my grandkids.”

For the last 23 years, Foster has worked with youth and adult hockey players, and she even worked with the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s hockey team to help correct players’ skating technique. 

“Figure skaters have techniques that even hockey coaches don’t quite understand,” Foster says. “It really helps if you can break it down and help them get the most out of their legs while their body is still handling a puck.”

Although she considers herself retired, she does still instruct a few students (teaching two days a week instead of seven). Even aside from her teaching, Foster says she would be at Tranquility Iceplex at some point every day doing a variety of jobs and chores that need to be completed: mounting figure skate blades, selling equipment at the rink’s pro shop, and fitting customers with new skates.

“It’s allowed me to have a lot of diversity,” Foster says. “So even at this age, where I’m not actively teaching, I have lots of other interests that keep me involved with the rink and the people in it, which is the fun part.”

Foster says she is never bored because of all the activities she has taken on. She works at the rink, teaches lessons, spends time with friends and does Pilates, which helps align her spine and strengthens her back.

“I am really looking forward to skating again,” says Foster, who gets on the ice with her students for instruction but is not attempting toe jumps, double axels, or triple lutzes. “After my knee replacement, I’m struggling to be able to demonstrate the power that correct technique can generate. I think that as everything settles down, I would like to get myself feeling really comfortable again on the ice.”

Foster is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. She holds students to her own high standard of excellence, too. They shouldn’t expect coddling or ego-stroking. If that’s what a student wants, then Foster says, “you’re with the wrong coach.” 


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.